Rabbis Provide Answers About Paying Household Help during the Pandemic

Dear WJC Family,

We have been asked about the subject of paying housekeepers and babysitters who, because of COVID-19, are no longer able to do their regular jobs. We would like to share the Jewish principles involved in answering these questions.

The current situation raises a number of issues: Should they be paid if they are no longer rendering the services they were employed to perform? Should they be paid in part but not in full?  Should they be paid their full wages regardless of the fact that they cannot work at this time?

The Torah and Rabbinic teachings have some clear ideas about these questions based on the principle that these laborers are very vulnerable. Generally speaking, they live from paycheck to paycheck.  Stopping payment, or even making partial payment, places them in danger—rents, food, medicine etc. are all at risk. 

We know that these are difficult times and we are sympathetic. If the current economic situation has made you and your family insecure regarding basic necessities, of course, you should take care of your immediate family first. In fact, please contact us as we are here to help. However, if it is possible for you to pay your regular workers, it is an obligation of Judaism to do so and to pay full payment. Because these laborers are directly dependent on us, after support for direct family members, Jewish law places these individuals next in line for our tzedakah – before any other charitable concern.

We, therefore, advise every member of the Westchester Jewish Center family to continue to pay our household help in full during this pandemic. It is a mitzvah and to do otherwise goes against Jewish law and ethics.

Sending blessings for health and prosperity,

Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz and Rabbi Jeffrey Segelman

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